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UC SHIP board looking to add surgery options for transgender students

The University of California Student Health Insurance Plan, which has an office in the Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center, may soon include top surgeries for male-to-female transgender students in its plan. (Jintak Han/Assistant Photo editor)

By Isabella Welch

Feb. 23, 2017 9:58 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated the benefit might be discontinued at UC Berkeley if the California Department of Public Health's does not approve it. In fact, the benefit depends on the California Department of Insurance's approval.

University of California representatives are working to include certain transgender surgeries in student health insurance coverage.

Attendees at the UC Student Health Insurance Plan meeting Tuesday discussed voting to add breast augmentation surgery for male-to-female transgender students to the UC SHIP plan, said David DiTullio, an Executive Oversight Board graduate representative for the Student Health Advisory Committee.

However, they tabled the vote and decided to collect more data about the feasibility of adding the surgery to UC SHIP coverage over the next year before making a final decision.

“This is an important issue that we want to include in future years, but we need to make sure we research it, analyze potential financial impacts and then implement it the right way,” DiTullio said.

Currently, UC SHIP only covers top surgeries for female-to-male transgender students, which includes breast removal and chest surgeries. Schools within the UC SHIP system began discussing altering the existing policy after one campus requested it, DiTullio said.

The Student Health Advisory Committee, which advocates for adequate health care policies for students, is comprised of four undergraduates, four graduate students and staff advisors from the Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center. SHAC’s Executive Oversight Board student representatives are solely responsible for voting on policy changes, but they do receive input from UC Office of the President staff and physicians.

When someone proposes a new benefit, the UC SHIP medical director researches the possibility of adding it to the plan and presents the findings to the EOB, which in turn submits one vote per campus on the proposal. DiTullio said UCOP directors of the student health insurance plan make the final decision, but they have never gone against EOB’s recommendation.

The UC SHIP staff hopes to implement the male-to-female top surgery benefit for the 2018-2019 school year but has not reached a decision, said Karina Keus, a SHAC and EOB undergraduate representative.

“Ultimately, a couple campuses did express interest in adding the benefit, with the understanding that we would take more time on the vote,” Keus added.

In the initial year of implementation, the top surgery benefit would add about an additional 0.1 percent to UC SHIP cost per student. After the first year, it is unclear what the additional cost to students would be, Keus said. SHAC is looking to gather data about cost in its research this year.

UC Berkeley added the surgery to its plan this year, but no students have taken advantage of the top surgery yet, DiTullio said.

Keus said the Berkeley campus is not under the umbrella of the UC SHIP system; it receives insurance through Anthem. The benefit is temporary and might be discontinued at UC Berkeley if the California Department of Insurance does not approve it, Keus added.

Some students said they think the possible benefit is a positive step for the student health plan.

Lucas Ferral, a second-year English student, said he thinks the potential benefit would be essential to the support of transgender students on campus.

“If (UCLA) is already providing other trans resources and other UC schools are providing it, then it definitely is their responsibility to offer this,” he said.

Students from TransUp, the transgender advocacy group on campus, did not respond to a request for comment before publishing.

If the benefit is provided in the future, it would be offered across all campuses in the UC SHIP conglomerate, which includes UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz, UC Hastings College of the Law and UCLA.

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